A Passage to India
Original theatrical poster
Directed byDavid Lean
Screenplay byDavid Lean
Based on
A Passage to India
1960 play
Produced byJohn Brabourne
Richard Goodwin
CinematographyErnest Day
Edited byDavid Lean
Music byMaurice Jarre
Distributed byColumbia-EMI-Warner Distributors (United Kingdom)[1]
Columbia Pictures (North America)
Release date
  • 14 December 1984 (1984-12-14)
Running time
163 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States[2]
Budget£17 million[3] or $14.5 million[4]
Box office$40 million (est.)

A Passage to India is a 1984 epic historical drama film written, directed and edited by David Lean. The screenplay is based on the 1960 play of the same name by Santha Rama Rau, which was in turn based on the 1924 novel of the same name by E. M. Forster.

Set in the 1920s during the period of the British Raj, the film tells the story of the interactions of several characters in the fictional city of Chandrapore, namely Dr Aziz, Mrs Moore, Adela Quested, and Richard Fielding. When newcomer to India, Adela, accuses Aziz of an attempted rape within the famed Marabar Caves, the city is split between the British elite and the native underclass as the budding friendship between Aziz and Fielding is tested. The film explores themes of racism, imperialism, religion, and the nature of relationships both friendly and marital.

This was the final film of Lean's prestigious career and the first feature film he had directed in fourteen years since Ryan's Daughter in 1970. Receiving praise as Lean's finest since Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India received eleven nominations at the 57th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Judy Davis' performance as Adela Quested. It won Best Supporting Actress for Peggy Ashcroft's performance as Mrs. Moore, making her, at 77, the oldest actress to win the award, and Best Original Score for Maurice Jarre, his third award in that category.


Adela Quested is sailing from England to British Raj India with Mrs. Moore, the mother of her intended bridegroom, Ronny Heaslop, Mrs. Moore's son from her first marriage. Heaslop is the City magistrate in Chandrapore, and Adela intends to see if she can make a go of it.

The ladies are disappointed to find that the British community is very much separated from the Indian population and culture with a growing Indian independence movement in the 1920s. They are encouraged when the local school superintendent Richard Fielding, introduces them to the eccentric elderly Hindu Brahmin scholar Professor Narayan Godbole. Mrs. Moore meets by chance another Indian local, Dr Aziz Ahmed, a widower who is surprised by her kindness and lack of prejudice. Aziz offers to host an excursion to the local Marabar Caves.

The initial exploration of the caves shows that the size of the party should be limited when Mrs. Moore suffers from claustrophobia and the noise from the large entourage echoes exponentially inside the caves. Mrs. Moore encourages Adela and Aziz to continue their exploration of the caves alone with just one guide.

They reach the caves at a higher elevation some distance from the group and, before entering, Aziz steps away to smoke a cigarette. He returns to find Adela has disappeared. Shortly afterwards, he sees her running headlong down the hill, disheveled. She is picked up by the doctor's wife, Mrs. Callendar, and taken to the Callendars' home. Adela is bleeding and delirious. Dr. Callendar medicates Adela with a hypodermic syringe.

Upon his return to Chandrapore, Dr. Aziz is accused of attempting to rape Adela inside the caves, is jailed awaiting trial, and the incident becomes a cause célèbre. Mrs. Moore firmly believes Aziz did not commit any offence and departs India for England. Seemingly enjoying her passage at sea, Mrs. Moore suddenly suffers an apparent heart attack and dies.

In court, Adela is questioned by the prosecutor, who is stunned when Adela replies that Dr. Aziz never entered the cave, where the supposed attempt took place. It becomes clear to Adela that her earlier signed accusation of attempted rape was false, so she recants. Aziz is freed and celebrated for his innocence. Adela is abandoned to her own devices by the British, except for Mr. Fielding, who assists her to safety at the college. She plans to return to England at the earliest moment. Aziz rids himself of his western associations and vows to find a new job in another Indian state; he opens a clinic in the lake area near Srinagar, Kashmir.

Meanwhile, through Adela, Fielding has married Stella Moore, Mrs. Moore's daughter from her second marriage. Aziz eventually reconciles with Fielding, and Aziz writes to Adela asking her to forgive him for taking so long to come to appreciate the courage she exercised when she withdrew her accusation in court.




E. M. Forster began writing A Passage to India during a stay in India from late 1912 to early 1913 (he was drawn there by a young Indian Muslim, Syed Ross Masood, whom he had tutored in Latin), completing it only after he returned to India as secretary to a maharajah in 1921. The novel was published on 4 June 1924.[5] It differs from Forster's other major works in the overt political content, as opposed to the lighter tone and more subdued political subtext in works such as Howards End and A Room With a View.

A Passage to India deals with the delicate balance between the English and the Indians during the British Raj.[6] The question of what actually happened in the caves remains unanswered in the novel. A Passage to India sold well and was widely praised in literary circles. It is generally regarded as Forster's best novel, quickly becoming a classic of English literature.[7]

Over many years several film directors were interested in adapting the novel to the big screen, but Forster, who was criticised when the novel was published, rejected every offer for the film rights, believing that any film of his novel would be a travesty. He feared that whoever made it would come down on the side of the English or the Indians, and he wanted balance. However he did allow Indian author Santha Rama Rau to adapt it for the theatre in 1957.[8]

David Lean had read the novel and saw the play in London in 1960, and, impressed, attempted to purchase the rights at that time, but Forster, who rejected Santha Rama Rau's suggestion to allow Indian film director Satyajit Ray to make a film, said no.[9]

Following Forster's death in 1970, the governing board of fellows of King's College at Cambridge inherited the rights to his books. However, Donald Parry, his executor, turned down all approaches, including those of Joseph Losey, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and Waris Hussein, who after adapting Santha Rama Rau's play for the BBC in the 1960s now wanted to make a feature film. Ten years later, when Professor Bernard Williams, a film enthusiast, became chief executor, the rights for a film adaptation became available.[10]


Producer John Brabourne, also known as John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne, whose father had been Governor of Bombay and later Governor of Bengal, and who was married to the daughter of Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy, had sought the film rights for twenty years.[9] He and his business partner, Richard Goodwin, had produced Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968) and films based on Agatha Christie's mysteries, including the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express. In March 1981, Brabourne and Goodwin obtained the rights to make a film adaptation of A Passage to India.[9] The contract stipulated that Santha Rama Rau write the screenplay and it reserved the right to approve the director.

"Forster gave us a verbal go-ahead", remembered Goodwin later, "but my partner (John Brabourne) and I never got it in writing. So it was another 10 years before the Forster estate arranged the sale of film rights".[4] Lindsay Anderson later claimed he turned down a chance to direct the film of the novel.[11]

Brabourne, an admirer of the film Doctor Zhivago, wanted David Lean to direct the film. Lean was ready to break his 14-year hiatus from filmmaking following mostly negative reviews received for Ryan's Daughter in 1970. Since then, Lean had fought to make a two-part epic telling the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, for which he could not obtain financing (the budget was an estimated $50 million), and had given some thought about doing a film adaptation of Out of Africa, from the book by Isak Dinesen, which Sydney Pollack ultimately directed in 1985. By September 1981, Lean was approved as director and Santha Rama Rau completed a draft of the script.[10]


The contract stipulated that Santha Rama Rau would write the screenplay. She had met with E. M. Forster, had successfully adapted A Passage to India as a play, and had been charged by the author with preserving the spirit of the novel. However, Lean was determined to exercise input in the writing process. He met with Rau in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and over ten days they talked about the novel and discussed the script.

The initial script pleased neither the producer, John Brabourne, nor Lean. They considered it too worldly and literary, the work of a playwright, and unsuitable for a film. Most of the scenes took place indoors and in offices while Lean had in mind to film outdoors as much as possible. With India in the title of the film, he reasoned, audiences would expect to see many scenes filmed of the Indian landscape. Lean commented: "We are blessed with a fine movie title, A Passage to India. But it has built in danger; it holds out such a promise. The very mention of India conjures up high expectations. It has sweep and size and is very romantic". Lean did not want to present a poor man's pre-independence India when for the same amount of money he could show the country's visual richness.

During 1982, Lean worked on the script. He spent six months in New Delhi, to have a close feeling for the country while writing. As he could not stay longer for tax reasons, he then moved to Zurich for three months, finishing it there. Following the same method he had employed adapting Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, he went through Rau's original script and his copy of the novel, picking out the episodes that were indispensable and passing over those that did not advance the plot. Lean typed out the whole screenplay himself, correcting it as he went along, following the principle that scripts are not written, but rewritten.


The director cast Australian actress Judy Davis, then 28, as the naive Miss Quested after a two-hour meeting. When Davis gave her interpretation of what happened in the caves — "She can't cope with her own sexuality, she just freaks out" — Lean said that the part was hers. Davis had garnered international attention in Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career (1979) and had appeared in A Woman Called Golda (1982) as a young Golda Meir.

Lean wanted Celia Johnson, star of Brief Encounter, to play Mrs Moore, but she turned down the part and died before the film was released. The director then offered the part to Peggy Ashcroft, a stage actress who had appeared in films only sporadically. She was not enthusiastic when Lean asked her to be Mrs Moore. "Mr Lean, I'm 75 years old", she protested. "So am I", he replied. Although she had recently worked in India on the TV miniseries The Jewel in the Crown, she said, "I thought, 'Oh dear, I really don't want to do it', but it's very difficult to turn down a Lean film".

Satyajit Ray, who had hoped to direct his adaptation of A Passage to India, recommended 38-year-old Bengali actor Victor Banerjee for the role of Dr Aziz. The character required a combination of foolishness, bravery, honour and anger. After some hesitation, Lean cast Banerjee, but the director had to overcome the restrictions of British equity to employ an Indian actor. Lean got his way, and the casting made headlines in India. "It was a matter of national pride that an Indian was cast instead of an Asian from England" observed Banerjee.

Peter O'Toole was Lean's first choice to play Fielding. The role eventually went to James Fox. Despite having quarrelled with Lean in the 1960s about a proposed film about Gandhi that ultimately was scrapped, Alec Guinness agreed to portray Professor Godbole. The relationship between the two men deteriorated during filming, and when Guinness learned that much of his performance was left on the cutting room floor due to time constraints, he saw it as a personal affront. Guinness would not speak to Lean for years afterwards, patching things up only in the last years of Lean's life.[12] Nigel Hawthorne was cast as Turton but fell ill and was replaced on-set by Richard Wilson.


Financing the film was difficult. EMI provided some initial money, but Lean paid his own expenses scouting locations and writing the screenplay. Eventually the budget was raised from EMI, Columbia and HBO.[10]

In December 1984, Thorn EMI offered investors the chance to invest in several films by issuing £36 million worth of shares. The films were A Passage to India (1984), Morons from Outer Space, Dreamchild, Wild Geese II and The Holcroft Covenant[13] (all 1985).[14]


Filming took place from November 1983 to June 1984.

The Marabar Caves are based on the Barabar Caves, some 35 km north of Gaya, in Bihar. Lean visited the caves during pre-production, and found them flat and unattractive; concerns about bandits were also prevalent. Instead he used the hills of Savandurga and Ramadevarabetta some tens of kilometers from Bangalore, where much of the principal filming took place; small cave entrances were carved out by the production company.[15] Other scenes were filmed in Ramanagaram (Karnataka) and Udhagamandalam (Tamil Nadu) and in Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir). Some interiors were shot at Shepperton Studios in Surrey and in Bangalore Palace.


The film's score was composed by longtime Lean collaborator Maurice Jarre. According to Jarre, the director told him, "Maurice, I want you to write music right from your groin for this very long scene in the cave. This isn't a story of India, it's a story of a woman. I want you to write music that evokes awakening sexuality".[4]

Jarre wrote 45 minutes of music in two and a half weeks. He said, "David talks to me in images. A film artist never asks for an oboe to cover up a bad scene; a film artist doesn't think of music as medicine for a sick movie. David talks to me as he would talk to an actor."[4]


Critical response

Lean's final film received widespread critical acclaim, and became a critics' favourite of 1984. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "[Lean's] best work since The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia and perhaps his most humane and moving film since Brief Encounter. Though vast in physical scale and set against a tumultuous Indian background, it is also intimate, funny and moving in the manner of a film maker completely in control of his material … Though [Lean] has made A Passage to India both less mysterious and more cryptic than the book, the film remains a wonderfully provocative tale, full of vivid characters, all played to near perfection."[16]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed that "Forster's novel is one of the literary landmarks of this century, and now David Lean has made it into one of the greatest screen adaptations I have ever seen … [He] is a meticulous craftsman, famous for going to any length to make every shot look just the way he thinks it should. His actors here are encouraged to give sound, thoughtful, unflashy performances … and his screenplay is a model of clarity."[17]

Variety called the film "impeccably faithful, beautifully played and occasionally languorous" and added, "Lean has succeeded to a great degree in the tricky task of capturing Forster's finely edged tone of rational bemusement and irony."[18]

Time Out London thought the film was "a curiously modest affair, abandoning the tub-thumping epic style of Lean's late years. While adhering to perhaps 80 per cent of the book's incident, Lean veers very wide of the mark over E.M. Forster's hatred of the British presence in India, and comes down much more heavily on the side of the British. But he has assembled his strongest cast in years … And once again Lean indulges his taste for scenery, demonstrating an ability with sheer scale which has virtually eluded British cinema throughout its history. Not for literary purists, but if you like your entertainment well tailored, then feel the quality and the width."[19]

Channel 4 said, "Lean was always preoccupied with landscapes and obsessed with the perfect shot – but here his canvas is way smaller than in Lawrence of Arabia, for instance … Still, while the storytelling is rather toothless, A Passage to India is certainly well worth watching for fans of the director's epic style."[20]

On Rotten Tomatoes, A Passage to India holds a rating of 79% from 28 critics, with an average rating of 7.20/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A Passage to India is a visually striking exploration of colonialism and prejudice, although it doesn't achieve the thematic breadth of director David Lean's finest work."[21] The film is assigned an average score of 78 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 14 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[22]

Box office

Market(s) Release Ticket sales Box office gross revenue Ref
United States / Canada 1984 7,700,000 $27,187,653 [23][24]
United Kingdom 1985 2,528,729 (est.) £4,313,000 ($5,536,585) [25][26][27][28]
France 1985 984,724 $2,668,602 (est.) [29][a]
Germany 1985 713,303 3,136,849 ($2,716,217) [30][31]
Spain / Sweden 1985 317,100 $719,817 (est.) [24][a]
Italy 1985 285,646 $648,416 (est.) [29][a]
South Korea 1986 135,032 472,612,000 ($536,176) (est.) [32][33][34]
Netherlands / Iceland / Portugal 2007 217 [35]
New Zealand 2011 US$13,591 [36]
Total 12,664,751+ (est.) $40,027,057+ (est.)

Awards and honors

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[37] Best Picture John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin Nominated
Best Director David Lean Nominated
Best Actress Judy Davis Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Peggy Ashcroft Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium David Lean Nominated
Best Art Direction Art Direction: John Box and Leslie Tomkins;
Set Decoration: Hugh Scaife
Best Cinematography Ernest Day Nominated
Best Costume Design Judy Moorcroft Nominated
Best Film Editing David Lean Nominated
Best Original Score Maurice Jarre Won
Best Sound Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier,
Michael A. Carter, and John W. Mitchell
American Film Institute[38] AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Maurice Jarre Nominated
Association of Polish Filmmakers Critics Awards Best Foreign Film David Lean Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Judy Davis Won
Best Supporting Actress Peggy Ashcroft Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film John Knatchbull, Richard Goodwin, and David Lean Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Victor Banerjee Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Peggy Ashcroft Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role James Fox Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted David Lean Nominated
Best Cinematography Ernest Day Nominated
Best Costume Design Judy Moorcroft Nominated
Best Production Design John Box Nominated
Best Score Maurice Jarre Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Ernest Day Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures David Lean Nominated
Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Actor Victor Banerjee Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Peggy Ashcroft Won
Best Director – Motion Picture David Lean Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Won
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Maurice Jarre Won
Grammy Awards Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won
Best Director David Lean Won
Best Supporting Actress Peggy Ashcroft Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Won
National Board of Review Awards Best Film Won
Top Ten Films Won
Best Director David Lean Won
Best Actor Victor Banerjee Won
Best Actress Peggy Ashcroft Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Director David Lean Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Peggy Ashcroft Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won
Best Director David Lean Won
Best Actress Peggy Ashcroft Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium David Lean Nominated

Home video

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first DVD on 20 March 2001. It was in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Bonus features included Reflections of David Lean, an interview with the screenwriter/director, cast biographies, and production notes.

On 9 September 2003, Columbia Pictures released the box set The David Lean Collection, which included Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and A Passage to India.

On 15 April 2008, Sony released A Passage To India (2-Disc Collector's Edition). In addition to Reflections of David Lean from the 2001 release, bonus features included commentary with producer Richard Goodwin; E.M. Forster: A Profile of an Author, covering some of the main themes of the original book; An Epic Takes Shape, in which cast and crew members discuss the evolution of the film; An Indian Affair, detailing the primary production period; Only Connect: A Vision of India, detailing the final days of shooting at Shepperton Studios and the post-production period; Casting a Classic, in which casting director Priscilla John discusses the challenges of bringing characters from the book to life; and David Lean: Shooting with the Master, a profile of the director. On 15 April 2008, Sony released a Blu-ray HD Collector's Edition with a restored print and new digital mastering.

See also



  1. ^ "A Passage to India (1984)". BBFC. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  2. ^ "A Passage to India (1984)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 26 March 2024.
  3. ^ Alexander Walker, Icons in the Fire: The Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone in the British Film Industry 1984–2000, Orion Books (2005), p.35
  4. ^ a b c d MAGNIFICENT OBSESSIONS: Rosenfield, Paul. Los Angeles Times 24 March 1985: 1.
  5. ^ "The 100 best novels: No 47 – A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)". The Guardian. 18 August 2014. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  6. ^ Phillips, Beyond the Epic , p.406
  7. ^ Phillips, Beyond the Epic , p.403
  8. ^ Stape, J. H. (18 December 1992). E. M. Forster. Springer. ISBN 9781349128501 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b c Phillips, Beyond the Epic , p.407
  10. ^ a b c LEAN'S 14-YEAR PASSAGE TO LOVE Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 10 April 1983: w21.
  11. ^ LINDSAY ANDERSON BREWS SOME CHAOS New York Times17 Jan 1982: A.19.
  12. ^ Read, Piers Paul, Alec Guinness: The Authorized Biography.
  13. ^ Walker 1985 p286
  14. ^ Producer splits cost of films The Guardian 10 January 1985: 4.
  15. ^ Makins, Tim (3 August 2007). "The Marabar Caves - page 1". A Passage To India. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  16. ^ Canby, Vincent (14 December 1984). "The Screen: 'Passage to India,' by David Lean". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 24 May 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger. "A Passage to India Movie Review (1984)". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on 9 May 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  18. ^ "Variety review". Archived from the original on 29 February 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  19. ^ "A Passage to India 1984, directed by David Lean | Film review". Time Out. 3 May 2011. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  20. ^ "A Passage to India Movie Review (1984) from Channel 4 Film". Channel 4. Archived from the original on 7 August 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  21. ^ "A Passage to India (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 September 2023.
  22. ^ "A Passage to India". Metacritic. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  23. ^ "A Passage to India (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  24. ^ a b ""Поездка в Индию" (A Passage to India, 1984)". KinoPoisk (in Russian). Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  25. ^ "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 30.
  26. ^ "A Passage To India". 25th Frame. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  27. ^ "Official exchange rate (LCU per US$, period average) - United Kingdom". World Bank. 1985. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  28. ^ "UK cinema ticket prices". Terra Media. 20 August 2014. Archived from the original on 18 July 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  29. ^ a b "A Passage to India (1984)". JP's Box-Office (in French). Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  30. ^ "Die Erfolgreichsten Filme in Deutschland" [The Most Successful Films in Germany]. Inside Kino (in German). 1985. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  31. ^ "Historical currency converter with official exchange rates". fxtop.com. 21 December 1985. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  32. ^ "영화정보" [Movie Information]. KOFIC (in Korean). Korean Film Council. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  33. ^ Park, Seung Hyun (2000). A Cultural Interpretation of Korean Cinema, 1988-1997. Indiana University. p. 119. Average Ticket Prices in Korea, 1974-1997 [...] * Source: Korea Cinema Yearbook (1997-1998) * Currency: won [...] Foreign [...] 1986 [...] 3,500
  34. ^ "Official exchange rate (LCU per US$, period average) - Korea, Rep". World Bank. 1986. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  35. ^ "Film #20156 : A Passage to India". Lumiere. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  36. ^ "A Passage to India". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  37. ^ "The 57th Academy Awards (1985) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  38. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2016.